Nowata County, OK — A sheriff in Oklahoma, along with nearly all of her staff have recently resigned from their posts to protest dangerous and unconstitutional conditions within the jail. During a press conference last week, Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett read her letter of resignation and then let out a bombshell admission that a judge “tried to bribe” her to stay on and lie.
Barnett did something many other “good cops” are too afraid to do — which is standing up to injustice. Adding to the statement made by Barnett’s courageous move to resign in the face of unconstitutional jail conditions is the fact that nearly her entire staff followed suit immediately after her statement.
According to NBC News, 12 members of the Nowata County Sheriff’s Office staff, including all deputies, the head dispatcher and most of the jail staff, resigned with Barnett.
Nowata County Judge Carl Gibson ordered Barnett and her undersheriff to a court appearance on Tuesday where he said he has an “obligation to live within a budget” and Barnett didn’t respect that, ABC Tulsa reports.
The sheriff knew she would be held in contempt by Judge Gibson if she refused to continue to maintain the dangerous and harsh conditions in the jail. But she refused anyway.
Sheriff Barnett posted a copy of the letter to Facebook describing the allegations against the county which are nothing short of damning.
— Maureen Wurtz (@MaureenWurtzTV) March 18, 2019
“With deep regret, today I am tendering my resignation letter as your sheriff of Nowata County,” Barnett wrote in her resignation letter. “I have been informed by Judge Gibson that he is going to mandate me to bring prisoners back in to the Nowata County jail today or be held in contempt of court.”
“I cannot do so in good conscience,” she wrote, noting that the jail does not comply with constitutional standards.
Even the most chronic or hardened inmates have basic rights that are protected by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which notes that no “cruel and unusual punishments” be “inflicted.”
The conditions at the jail were most certainly cruel and unusual.
According to the sheriff, a carbon monoxide leak that occurred last month and sent four employees to the emergency room had not been addressed, a proper fire alarm system wasn’t in place and methane gases permeate the jail because of poorly-installed plumbing. She also said inmates had been shocked while taking showers because of exposed wiring.
A snake was even reported to have fallen out of the ceiling and onto the head of one of the inmates.
Barnett isn’t just making this up to get the jail remodeled either. The Pawhuska Journal-Capital reports that earlier this month, an auditor with the American Correctional Association deemed the jail unsafe, also citing exposed wires, mold, unusable toilets and sinks and no cameras.
Nowata County sheriff reading her resignation letter after issues with the jail. She told us that a judge ordered her to bring prisoners back to the jail, but she won't because of safety issues.The jail has been without prisoners since the end of February when there was a carbon monoxide leak. She says Nowata County prisoners are being housed in Washington County right now. Tulsa's Channel 8 – KTUL
Posted by Maureen Wurtz on Monday, March 18, 2019
Barnett’s resignation in the face of injustice speaks volumes considering that her predecessor is likely the reason the jail is so strapped for funds in the first place. Sheriff Kenny Freeman was arrested last October for embezzlement. He was caught stealing supplies meant for schools in Nowata County. A shameful act indeed.
When police officers quit their jobs to stand up, not only for the rights of free citizens but for the rights of people in jail, they deserve recognition. Hopefully, Nowata County — which happens to be the third poorest county in the state — will get the funds it needs to maintain this sheriff who is proving to be a thorn in the side of corruption.